(Content Warning: Use of transphobic slur.)
“Coming out of the closet” is big part of our lingo and understanding of the LGBTQIA+ experience. But do you know about the many different meanings of being “out” for different people?
This comic breaks down what the concept of the closet really means, and shows how cis and straight allies can help dismantle the forces building closets around our identities.
The Editors at Everyday Feminism
Click for the Transcript
Person 1: (speaking to Robot Hugs) So… when did you come out of the closet?
Robot Hugs (RH): This is not an unusual question. It always gives me pause though. What does this mean?
Person 2: (speaking to two people) Mom, Dad, I love you, and I just wanted to tell you that I’m… I’m [gay, bi, asexual, genderqueer, trans…]
RH: Coming out can be scary, and brave, and risky, and cathartic, and freeing, and dangerous, and joyous, and heartbreaking.
Mom: Get out. Don’t talk to us until you’ve stopped this nonsense.
RH: The stories that are told about queer lives often seem to follow this path:
Person 3: Why… why don’t I feel like other people feel? Am I broken?
Text: Self Denial.
Person 3: There’s no way I just don’t feel sexual attraction. See? I’m in a great, perfect, sexy relationship right now. Everything is perfect.
Text: Self Realization.
Person 3: Ooh… Yeah. I’m asexual. That is a thing I am.
Person 3: I can’t tell anyone about this. I have to act normal.
Text: Coming out.
Person 3: (speaking to a group of three people) Okay, I have to tell you all, I’m asexual. That means I’m not interested in having sexual relationships with people. It’s just who I am.
Mom: How will you ever be happy?
Person 3: You have to accept me for who I am.
Person 3: Now I will go on and live my life in happy, asexual, peace forever.
RH: What does this assume?
Text: That queer identity building is a linear path.
Person 4: My journey was about as straight as I am…
Text: That we only ever come out once, and we do it all at once.
Person 5: I’m out to my friends and work, but I still need to tell my sister…
Text: That there is only ever one thing to come out about.
Person 6: I identified as queer long before I identified as trans.
Person 7: Hey, what’s with that closet thing?
RH: Closets are built for us. Closets are created by social and structural expectations about who we are supposed to be, and the consequences of defying that.
Person 8: (holding a small baby) He’s already flirting with all the ladies!
Person 9: (snatching a doll from a small child) Boys don’t play with dolls.
Person 10: (with their arm around another person) When you meet the right man…
Person 11: (speaking to a young person) Trannies are men who think they are women. They are unwell.
Person 12: You’d look so pretty if you wore dresses.
RH: And there’s a lot of reasons people stay in closets.
Person 13: I’m waiting until I can move out from my dad’s home.
Person A: I’ll present as my correct gender after I move cities, I can just start over there.
Person B: I’m not ready for the kinds of reactions I’ll get from my friends.
Person C: It’s not safe to be out in my community.
RH: Coming out is often understood as the moment in a person’s life where they finally tell a group of people such as family or friends about how they have some kind of queer sexual orientation or gender identity.
RH: When we talk about closets and coming out, we’re really talking about how we occupy identities and spaces that run counter to social norms. In short, when you come out, you have to explicitly declare yourself as “other,” as “not normal,” as “unexpected.”
RH: This means that by having to be closeted, and by having to come out, we are basically being asked to validate that there are more predictable, more acceptable, less problematic identities that we could have held.
RH: It is dependent on the acknowledgement of a default.
(A piece of paper is shown with a checkbox form that includes “Male” and “Female.” Someone has written in “Neither” in red pen and x-ed out that box.)
RH: I mean, you can’t really come out as something that’s not socially stigmatized.
Person 14: Mom…Dad…I, I have something important to tell you and I’m not sure how you’re going to respond to this information. But, uh… like lizards. I think they’re neat. I kind of want one as a pet one day.
Dad: I’ll have no lizard lovers under my roof!
RH: Okay, maybe in your family…
RH: This is why it doesn’t really make sense to “come out of the closet” as straight or cis.
Person 15: I’m just showing solidarity!
RH: I get what you’re trying to do, I really do. You’re showing that our identities are as valid as yours by declaring your identity the same we have to. But your declaration does not carry the same very real risks as ours, and to a lot of people, it feels uncomfortable and empty as a gesture.
Person 15: What should I do then?
RH: I’d really rather you show, in both your language and actions, that you are working to maintain a safer space for people of all identities in your social, political, or work spaces. Dismantle the things around you that build closets for people.
RH: Being out means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
Person 16: Coming out was powerful for me! I make myself visible, I declare who I am. I make my identity impossible to ignore!
Person 17: I read as pretty normal, and if I’m not explicit about being out, I feel invisible. I hate knowing that everyone around me is assuming that I’m something I’m not.
Person 18: It’s not safe for me to be open about my gender identity, but I strongly object to the idea that this makes me “closeted.”
RH: For myself, I really don’t like it. I’m tired of my gender, my relationships, my orientation, my sex, my love, and my very existence being pretty much defined as not normal. I’m tired of these being areas of fascination and scrutiny for the world at large.
RH: I don’t come out because I have nothing to come out about. This is my life. This is how it’s shaped. I don’t want to be “out,” I just want to be.
RH: I think a lot of our lives would be helped by making sure we’re not requiring people to have to deal with our assumptions.
Person 19: (speaking to another person) Are you bringing a girlfriend or wife to the your end event?
Person 19: (speaking to the same other person) Are you bringing a partner to the year end event?
RH: (with a thought cloud that shows a rainbow over a green field) I think sometimes about a world without closets, where correcting someone about who we are or talking about our lives doesn’t involve social or physical risk. I think about a space where being yourself, whatever that is in that moment and in that environment, isn’t a political or radical statement.
Person 20: (whose body is hidden behind a closet door and whose hand is sticking out) Until then, this is the best place for me!
RH: I hear you. Would you like a lizard to keep you company?
Person 20: …yes, please.
(The closet door is shown shut.)
(The closet door is shown cracked open a little.)
(The closet door is open a bit more and Person 20 is peeking out of it.)
To learn more about this topic, check out:
- Coming Out As Trans*
- It’s Not All Glitter and Rainbows: 6 Harmful Myths About Coming Out
- Coming Out: Why Language Barriers Suck
- Along Came Poly: A Polyamorous Person’s Guide to Coming Out to Your Monogamous Partner
K is a Contributing Comic Artist for Everyday Feminism. They are a Canadian, non-binary, genderqueer, peoplequeer, mentally ill, critical feminist robot. They are the artist and writer for Robot Hugs, a twice-weekly webcomic about (among other things) gender, identity, feminism, mental health, and cats. In their spare time, they provide peer education and workshops on negotiation, consent, and identity. You can follow them on Twitter @.